Dear Angie: What is the average length of a workmanship warranty? We're planning a kitchen and bath remodel and what to know what to expect from a contractor.
— Catherine H., Lakewood, Wash.
Answer: The length of a work warranty can vary, but a year is fairly typical for remodeling projects.
Most states leave the length up to the contractor, says Dan Bawden, an attorney and contractor who serves on the Remodelers Council of the National Association of Home Builders. But Indiana, where I live, requires that most home improvement projects be free of workmanship problems for two years, according to the Indiana Builders Association.
Contractors who want to retain client goodwill may honor a work warranty for longer than the specified time. Still, there's a limit to what a client can reasonably expect from a contractor. For instance, a foundation may settle over time, creating structural problems with a past home project.
As with any other important aspect of a major home project, it's important to be sure you know what to expect with a warranty and to get details in writing. Bawden explains that a workmanship warranty is generally considered a "work and materials" warranty, because the contractor agrees to provide labor and supplies needed to correct a problem during the designated period. Contractors often expect to return to address a few issues, such as caulking that cracks after it dries. For efficiency, he suggests waiting long enough to collect a list of problems so the contractor doesn't make too many trips.
Usually, a workmanship warranty will cover anything that was damaged because of work that wasn't done correctly, such as cracks in a floor or surface that wasn't properly installed. But workmanship warranties don't cover materials or appliances that fail on their own. Those are covered by manufacturer warranties. You may want to ask your contractor if he or she will provide labor to remove a failed appliance or fixture that is replaced through a manufacturer warranty.
Work warranties usually don't cover damage a homeowner causes, though it could still be worth asking the contractor to take a look if something breaks after an accident in the kitchen or bathroom. For instance, if you knock something off the kitchen counter and it cracks a floor tile, you may have to pay for the repair. But by contacting the contractor, you may learn that the tile cracked because there wasn't enough mortar beneath it. In that case, an honest contractor should take responsibility to fix the mortar and replace the tile.
If you choose your own fixtures or materials for a project, a contractor may not be willing to warrant any work required if those failed, such as water damage caused by a leak stemming from a defective faucet.
Ultimately, a workmanship warranty is only as reliable as the contractor you've hired. That's why trust and reputation are such important factors, in addition to having a solid contract and confirming appropriate licensing, insurance and bonding. A reliable contractor should have no problem providing several references who can vouch for the quality of work. You'd be wise to contact recent references as well as clients who had work done some years ago.
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